Project Food Blog Challenge #5: Mini “Cheese Course” Pizzas

Mini "Cheese Course" Pizzas

For this particular Project Food Blog challenge we were asked to do our own spin on pizza, to take this basic dish and make it our own. I admit, this one stumped me a little.

The pizza dough isn’t a problem for me. I have a recipe that I love and it falls within my comfort zone as a baker. What challenges me is the toppings. You see, I don’t like to use recipes when I’m cooking. For some reason I just can’t do it. When I’m baking I follow a recipe exactly, but when I’m cooking, anything goes. I throw in a little of this, a little of that and see what happens. So sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but I learn as I go.

However, with this challenge, I couldn’t just throw some stuff together and hope it worked. It’s not a time to cross my fingers and hope for the best. I’m competing with 71 of the best food bloggers on the Internet, it had to work. I could have made a dessert pizza, but I was afraid that would be a cop-out. I wanted to push myself, to expand my horizons. So what was I going to make?

I’m not sure when I thought of it, but once I did I couldn’t get it out of my mind. While on our Mediterranean Cruise last month, my mother-in-law and I had the opportunity to dine at the Chef’s Table. The ship’s Executive Chef and head Maitre D’ prepared an amazing meal full of the most delicious dishes I have ever tasted. For the cheese course we were served Potted Stilton with Port Wine Reduction, Candied Walnuts and Savory Biscotti. The flavor profile was perfect— sweet and salty, tangy and creamy.

Once I thought of combining those flavors on a pizza, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And eventually, this is what I came up with: a pizza topped with gorgonzola and parmesan cheeses, baby arugula, candied walnuts, grapes, and a basalmic port reduction sauce. A complete cheese course all in one dish.

To start I prepared the pizza dough.

Pizza dough

Rounding the dough

Brushing on olive oil

Then I made a balsamic port reduction sauce by reducing a bottle of port with some vegetables and herbs, and adding a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Basalmic port reduction

And I candied some walnuts. These were so good, I wanted to gobble them all up immediately.

Candies walnuts

Then came time to put it all together.

Pizza toppings

The idea to grill the pizzas was an afterthought. Yesterday was such a beautiful, unseasonably warm day I just didn’t feel like turning on the oven. I think it was a good decision, as the grill added a smokiness to the overall flavor. While the pizzas were grilling, I added the parmesan and gorgonzola.

Grilling the pizza

I scattered the remaining toppings onto the hot pizzas and sampled the final product. It was wonderful. It was delicious. The marriage of sweet and savory flavors, the salty tanginess of the cheese with the sweetness of the balsamic port sauce and grapes, the soft and chewy crust with the crunchiness of the candied walnuts. It was complex, it had depth.

The only thing I would change for next time is to make smaller, almost bite-sized, pizzas. The flavors were so strong that I had a hard time getting through the whole thing. But my husband was very fond of them, eating two and a half pizzas in one sitting.

I am incredibly happy with how this pizza turned out and this is a recipe that I’m proud to put on my blog, and proud to submit for my fifth Project Food Blog Challenge. It was exactly what I was aiming for, a cheese course compacted into one single dish. Paired with a full-bodied red wine, this would be a great way to end a meal, or could even be small meal by itself.

Mini “Cheese Course” Pizzas
Makes 6 mini pizzas

Pizza dough (recipe follows)
Balsamic Port Wine Reduction (recipe follows)
1 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 cup Candied walnuts (recipe follows)
2 cups Baby arugula
1 cup red grapes, sliced in half
1/4 cup olive oil

Preheat grill on high for 10 minutes, covered. Reduce heat to medium high.

Brush the tops of the prepared pizza rounds with olive oil and place face down on the grill. Brush the other side with olive oil. Flip over after 1-2 minutes, when underside is lightly browned. Sprinkle the top with some gorgonzola cheese and parmesan cheese and cook for an additional 3 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Remove from grill and top with some baby arugula, grapes, and candied walnuts, and drizzle with the balsamic port reduction sauce.

Pizza Dough
Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook
Makes one 14 inch pizza, or 6 mini pizzas

2 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Additional flour, as necesssary

Stir together the yeast, 1 tablespoon of the flour, and 1/4 cup of the warm water and let stand until surface appears creamy, about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl or in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, stir together 1 1/4 cup flour and salt. Add the yeast mixture, oil, and remaining 1/2 cup warm water and stir until smooth. Stir in enough of the remaining flour so that the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.

Knead dough by hand or with the dough hook until soft and elastic, about 8 minutes. Form dough into one ball, or 6 if making mini pizzas. Put in a greased bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

With lightly floured hands, shape each dough round into a disk by holding one edge of dough in the air with both hands. Move hands around the edge of dough (like turning a steering wheel), allowing the weight of dough to stretch the round to about 6 inches. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Balsamic Port Reduction Sauce
Liberally adapted from Cooks Recipes
Makes 1/2 cup

1 bottle Port wine
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
1/2 cup onions, chopped,
1/2 cup celery, chopped
2 sprigs of thyme
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and saute for a few minutes until slightly browned.

Add the wine and thyme sprigs and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for a one hour until reduced to 1/2 cup, stirring occasionally.

Strain with a mesh strainer into a small bowl. Stir in balsamic vinegar and add sugar to sweeten, if desired.

Candied Walnuts
From The Gourmet Cookbook
Makes 1 cup

1 cup walnuts
1/3 powdered sugar
4 cups vegetable oil, for frying
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

Put walnuts in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil  over medium high heat and simmer until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Drain, then transfer to paper towels to dry completely, about 45 minutes.

Stir together the walnuts and powdered sugar in a small bowl.

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat to 350 degrees. Fry walnuts in small batches until browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and cayenne while they are still warm.